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A Rochester City School District high school teacher I know wrote me a letter about end-of-the-school-year testing. What this teacher describes is a little confusing – but that’s probably the point.

Remember “final exam week”? Especially when you were a freshman and you learned that you only have to come to school if/when you had an exam?

Boy, have times changed.

Test - Small FeaturedIn my district, where I am a veteran teacher – that is no longer the case. Final exam week – also known as Regents week is now reserved only for those taking actual Regents exams. “Final exams” are now often referred to as “post-assessments”. When do students take their final exams? During the last weeks of school, when students traditionally wrap up the year, finish projects, and prepare for their exams.

As a high school teacher, the last marking period of the school year, better than any other marking period, is planned to the day and usually loaded with work. Students are given their assignments and know the timeline regarding how the marking period will progress. Unfortunately, for my kids, their time has been cut short. Mind you the marking period is already shortened due to final exam week. This last marking period is 24 instructional days. Other marking periods max out at 32 days. The loss of eight instructional days is a 25 percent reduction! Not only are there fewer instructional days on the calendar in this last marking period, there are even fewer legitimate days of classwork going on. Remember in the beginning when I mentioned that “Exam week” is reserved for only those taking Regents exams? Well, my class does not end in a Regents exam, so they are to take their post-assessment during class time! That is a loss of two to three additional class days.

Add on the early administration of the Common Core Algebra exam – my class was cancelled that day – now my students will have had 20 instructional days this marking period. Oh! It keeps going. Next week, I will be pulled out of my classes to grade those exams! Yes, there will be a substitute; my students will be in class – however – seriously! You really think they’re going to work as they would if I were present? (This could be fixed relatively easily – send post-assessments back to finals week, where they belong!)

Now, let’s talk about these post-assessments, SLOs (Student Learning Outcomes/Objectives?) and APPR (Annual Professional Performance Review?).

Post-assessments. Traditionally, students take their final exams during finals. There are only two testing periods per day at 3 hours each. Students were able to work for an extended period of time and focus on one test. Now, students are taking tests during class time. So, a 90-minute test is to be taken over a few days in 45-minute increments. Basically, students come to class, get materials handed out and begin their test. Then class is over! Hand everything back in and leave. Come back tomorrow, hand everything out and work some more – often rereading the passages and questions that were interrupted yesterday because of the end of the class period. It is terribly unfair to students. They cannot get in a groove, sustain their focus, and power through their test. It’s start-stop-start-stop, etc. Is that really conducive to high achievement? In addition, my student in 5th period just left his Global Studies class where he just sat for that post-assessment! AND will move to another period and work on THAT class’s post-assessment. UNFAIR. While the score they earn is a small class 6th percentage of their final average, it is a significant portion of my evaluation, which brings me to SLOs and APPR.

The exam my students are taking was not created until this winter. This past fall, we were asked to predict – to a percentage point – precisely what score each student will earn on this test, which hadn’t even been created yet!

In October, I had to list my 85 students and state what they’ll earn – hhmmmm, Joe – I think he’ll get a 72; Darryl – he’s going to get an 84; Carly – she’ll probably get an 80. I had to do this with every single student.

Yes – I had “data” to look at from previous school years, but how am I to predict how a student would do on a random day in June on a test I hadn’t even seen!?! That’s the SLO part, now the APPR part. 20% of my final evaluation will be based on what percentage of my 85 students earned or exceeded the grade I guessed they’d get back in October. Now that I have actually seen the test, yeah – sign me up for a TIP right now!!! (Teacher Improvement Plan – for teachers deemed “ineffective” or “developing” in the new APPR rating scale.) I’ve spent more than a decade earning respect and a reputation for being a good teacher, having earned “Distinguished” evaluations, taught AP classes, mentored student teachers and served as a department coach. This system will not reflect that.

Back to the kids. This system is not working, it is not allowing them to be successful. I feel badly for them, they are stressed, burnt out and tested out. Are the parents even aware of this?

The Rochester Teachers Association has filed a grievance over the post-assessments. I think many of the issues described here are unique to the RCSD. It appears to be a chaotic system with the primary goal of informing a dubious teacher evaluation system.


Links of the Day:


– Land between Buffalo and Rochester will be last national cemetery for veterans to be built for next 40 years.

– That’s it. Larry Glazer owns all of Rochester.

– There will be no charges filed against the Buffalo woman who went on a racist rant. But there’s been such a backlash, police removed her children for their safety.

– A review of the Cortaca mess blames everything except college drinking culture.

Is softball sexist?

13 Responses to This Sounds Nuts

  1. June 7, 2014 at 10:57 am dalsup responds:

    There’s nothing unique to the RCSD about that scenario. Status quo.

  2. June 7, 2014 at 11:52 am lynn e responds:

    Consequences of putting video of someone on youtube. Their safety and their family is damaged.

  3. June 7, 2014 at 2:47 pm Brad responds:

    That is unfortnately not a situation unique to the RCSD. We are facing many of the same issues in the suburban district in which I work, although some of the particulars may vary. I love tests–but we have gone beyond all reason with the goal of producing numbers for the convoluted, abtuse teacher evaluation system. Can we not implement something that is fair and sensible but does not rely on taking HOURS away from instruction to children?

  4. June 8, 2014 at 10:37 am Orielly responds:

    nuts…? Nuts occurred a long time ago.
    Check out the school calendar, due to holidays they rarely go a month without a day off.

    Thanksgiving is 3 days, then 2 weeks at Christmas, then 3 weeks later they have another week off ..its called MidTerms exam week, most of which the exams are given in the classroom the week before so teachers can get another week off (which wastes that week before midterms as well). Why midterms can’t occur before the Christmas break and school continue during it is beyond me.

    Then of course there is the winter break week 3 weeks later and then 4-6 weeks later theres the Spring break week. Throw in a few Superintendents day (whats that?) Columbus day, MLK day and Veterans day (wouldn’t the kids be better off staying in school with an hour instruction on the meaning of those days?)and its a wonder they learn anything.
    Don’t forget on top of this in the RCSD they used to also get out early every Wednesday. On top of this RCSD teachers have more sick days than most, they also have off for seminars, some take vacations during the school year.

    And no one on the RCSD school board or the union had a problem with this schedule? For years.

    SO now we want the kids to achieve standards and we hear there’s not enough time to teach? And if we want the kids to go longer days in school or more days.. the NYSTU wants the teachers to get a raise?

    No, this has been nuts for years. And we hear complaints when the kids don’t show 25% of the time? Considering some to the parents, they likely aren’t sure half the time that school is even open.

  5. maybe if we re-elect the SAME congress and the same assembly members/state senators, we can get different results!

  6. June 8, 2014 at 5:14 pm John Jeffries responds:

    Looks like O’Reilley didn’t take his meds today. The article is about the poorly conceived SLO process. The RCSD follows the same school calendar as all the surrounding districts irate one! When are you going to quit trolling and get into the trenches? With all of your sterling suggestions you would be a tremendous asset in a classroom!

    • June 8, 2014 at 8:16 pm lisa englert responds:

      oreilly please come into my classroom anytime that is convenient for you – we truly welcome your insight into our most pressing situations
      email me at above address and we can set something up – i truly look forward to it

  7. June 8, 2014 at 10:38 pm Orielly responds:

    Just what I would expect as a response.

    One tries a name call and the other invites me to the classroom. Yep I have no idea what its like, sure.

    Its “convenient” for me to be in your classroom after work you know like around 6:30 PM or so and lets say late July. Oh you’re not working then?

    Yep don’t debate the school calendar or how many actual “school days” there really are…don’t debate the scam of midterms as that is all factual. Nope go with some name calls.Do I detect some guilty as charged on the midterm scam?

    Would love to be in your classroom when a student challenges you on the subject matter. Guess if you can’t counterpoint their challenge, then you can always go to the name call .. try something cool like say… Troll. And then see if a mock on medication works? yea way cool.

    Get in the trenches? Those that work in incentive based income do it every day. They work longer harder and try numerous things (smarter) to make it happen. No one stops them from working overtime and when they do, they don’t get paid for it. They have different opportunities based on territory and product offerings in the free marketplace. If they don’t make it they are fired. No debate offered. Sound familiar? No I wouldn’t think so.

    My suggestions? Maybe we could start by getting rid of the union president. You know the guy leading your union for 30+ years of ever decreasing results in the RCSD with lower standards no less. But he cares about the “education of children”….sure.

    Next I’d get rid of your state union whose advertisement encouraged the passing of EVERY school budget in the state. NOT one was over spending according to the NYS teachers union.

    District school calendars are the same across the state? Yea I know, but some are delivering and their students are passing.

    I would challenge any of the school calendars. Their goal is the service of the teachers not the customers (students) and to change them requires an act of god.

    We pay the highest nationwide per pupil for Edu and have results in the middle. And countrywide our education level is going down compared to many countries.

    And when faced with these facts the union response is to PASS every school budget? I guess we can then expect the name calls will be then coming from the union as well. As that apparently is what their teachers do when faced with the facts.

  8. June 9, 2014 at 6:21 am Mark responds:

    Oreilly you have a few errors in your ‘facts’ i.e. there are no such things as short Wednesdays and haven’t been for years, teachers CANNOT take vacations during the school year, and they do not have more sick days than most. Why won’t you take a day off from your dead end and not requiring much education job and go to a city classroom? You are a troll and a coward hiding in your dark room criticizing others. By the way, I’ll have fries with that….

  9. June 9, 2014 at 12:22 pm Orielly responds:

    Mark still with the name calls? Can’t debate the facts I raised?

    Short Wednesdays were ended by Bolgen Vargas last year. … yol claim, …there haven’t been short days for years? Vargas has been in his SUPER role for how long?

    The facts are”

    Per the D&C August 13 2013 “Dr. Bolgen Vargas, Superintendent of the Rochester City School District, announced yesterday that he would be ending the decades long practice of early dismissal on Wednesdays starting at the beginning of this school year.”

    D&C 5/20 2013 — RCSD More teachers were absent from their classrooms on Friday than any other day of this school year. Nearly a quarter of the district’s teachers – 734 – were not in their classrooms.

    Frustrated he couldn’t find enough substitutes, Superintendent Bolgen Vargas sent an email to all teachers over the weekend asking for help understanding the high absentee rate.

    The email said in part, “Reducing absences must be our shared goal, if we are to improve academic achievement and provide a stable educational environment for students.”

    According to the district, about 10 percent of the 734 absences were teachers assigned to “scoring tests, taking professional development courses or leading field trips, along with vacant positions.”

    The rate of unplanned absences – 15 percent – was still higher than the usual 8 to 9 percent rate.

    Rochester Teachers Association President Adam Urbanski conceded morale was a factor in teacher absenteeism. Teachers are dealing with a new evaulation system, Common Core curriculum and student behavior issues.

    “Everything being piled on teachers right now has created such an atmosphere of stress and anxiety and feelings of being overwhelmed, that some teachers need the time off just to regroup,” said Urbanski.

    “With a new evaluation system and a new curriculum, neither of which has been well thought-out, added to an already difficult job, it is the perfect recipe for high stress and low morale,” said School #2 teacher Matt Lavonas. “Teachers are doing what they can to survive the year.”

    Teachers get 10 sick days and two personal days. The district is spending $11.5 million on substitute teachers this school year.

    No teacher in the RCSD ever took vacation during the school year? Want to bet on that one?

    Kinda coming up short on the facts here. SO yea go with the name calls.

    Keep reading my posts Mark, you might learn something .. that you obviously didn’t know.

    • Sick days are now considered vacation days? Did not call you a name, you big baby. Ooops..a name called.

  10. June 13, 2014 at 11:35 pm Orielly responds:

    Ok Mark … you called me a Troll, accused me of not being educated, in a dead end job, etc now you go with another name call. You were proven wrong on every count including vacation days, and early dismissal and of course no comment by you or acceptance of being wrong so many times. They call that taking responsibility, guess you missed that one….

    Enjoy your weekend. I’m at my summer house after a week in NYC. All thanks to my dead end job and lack of education. Oh and I never take the fries, I go with the salad instead.

    • Sorry about the names. I was probably in a near state of nirvana because I start my retirement soon. Free money, baby!

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